Three strangers, each isolated by his or her own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria's legendary mega-city, they're more alone than they've ever been before. But when something like a meteorite plunges into the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they could never imagine. Together with Ayodele, a visitor from beyond the stars, they must race through Lagos and against time itself in order to save the city, the world...and themselves. 'There was no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And there was no pain. It was like being thrown into the stars.'
Praise for Who Fears Death: "A fantastical, magical blend of grand storytelling" (Publishers Weekly) "Beautifully written, this is dystopian fantasy at its very best" (Library Journal Review) "Both wondrously magical and terribly realistic." (Washington Post)
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Lagoon By Nnedi Okorafor is the World Fantasy Award winning author’s first novel for adults since 2010′s Who Fears Death. Narrated By Ben Onwukwe (known for his role in London’s Burning) and Adjoa Andoh (known for her roles in Dr. Who and EastEnders) for Hodder & Stoughton, the audiobook is really well done. Onwukwe handles most of the mainline narration, with Andoh providing the introduction and filling in for a few vignettes as well as providing all of the female voices “inline” with Onwukwe’s reading. Both narrators display quite a range, from multiple “American” accents to diverse African (Nigeria, Ghana, pidgin English) to British ex-pats and more; from simple dialogue to guttural screams, both actors give fantastic performances. At first, the “inline” insertions are a bit jarring, but as the audiobook progresses it becomes more natural and seamless to the ear. Inspired by “Wizard of the Crow, Under the Dome (the novel), Nollywood movies, and District 9″, Lagoon is a story of first alien contact, Lagos, Nigeria, and (principle among the protagonists) Adaora, a marine biologist. Okorafor’s aliens are different — upon high-magnification examination, Adaora discovers that they are not composed of cellular material at all, but rather billions of tiny metallic crystals — who can shapeshift, read thoughts, and are quite serious when they say that they bring “change” — a keyword refrain that I read as an homage to Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Written with a cinematic sensibility, along with the primary thrust of the story (Adaora, rapper Anthony, and soldier Agu trying desperately amidst the chaos of rioting Lagos to bring alien ambassador Ayodele together with the popular but ineffective Nigerian president) there are many, many sub-plots afoot, from a “born-again” church’s bishop hoping to use Ayodele, to small-time 419 scammers preparing to upgrade to kidnapping, to (as is perhaps a defining characteristic of Okorafor’s work to date) the intersection of science fiction and mythology: ghosts, gods, trees, animals, the ocean itself. Highly recommended.
- Samuel Montgomery-Blinn "I'm a voracious audiobibliophile, mainly interested in speculative fiction, with the occasional mimetic fiction or non-fiction title sneaking in."
Colorful magic realist science fiction
There aren't a lot of sci-fi/fantasy writers who use Africa as a primary setting, but Nnedi Okorafor is a noteworthy voice in this small subgenre. I enjoyed 2010's post-apocalypse coming-of-age, Who Fears Death, though I found the plot a little disjointed. Lagoon, her most recent work, shows her strengthening her skills as a writer and storyteller.
Here, when aliens come to set up a new home on Earth, they don't pick New York, London, or Tokyo, but land their ship in the ocean near Lagos, Nigeria, flooding the coast. Immediately, their technology, which is advanced to the point of near-magic, begins to wreak changes on the local marine life. For reasons that don't become clear until later, three people, strangers to each other, a marine biologist named Adaora, a popular Ghanaian rapper named Anthony, and a soldier named Agu, are attracted to the beach. A wave pulls them all into the water, and some time later, they return with a fourth individual, an ambassador from the aliens who has taken human form.
At this point, had the story been set in the US, the government would have swooped in, set up a tight military cordon and whisked away the visitor. But, this is Nigeria. Instead, Adaora conducts a few tests, footage ends up on the internet, and different parties, from a charlatan witch-hunting preacher to some enterprising kidnappers to a unit of trigger-happy soldiers, converge on the scene. Meanwhile, the strange events unleash religious fervor, rioting, and other chaos throughout Lagos. The aliens, like gods, can be benevolent in their way, but also seem to be judging humanity and are dangerous when provoked.
This definitely isn't conventional sci-fi. There are some strong mystical elements to the story, which lend it, at times, a magic realist flavor reminiscent of Salman Rushdie. The aliens, it seems, have awakened old spirits and powers lurking just beneath the skin of Lagos (including a man-eating road!). I very much enjoyed the colorful writing and the honesty about Nigeria's conflicted, multifaceted personality that emerged in the book's many short vignettes, each from the perspective of a different denizen of the city. Okorafor's creativity especially shines in the sequences devoted to animals changed by the aliens' energies. Audiobook narrators, Adjoa Andoh and Ben Onwukwe, who do an astonishing range of accents, demonstrate just how much the spoken-word experience can enhance a book.
It's not that there weren't annoyances, though. The central plot, which concerned the main characters' mission to get through the chaos to meet up with Nigeria's ailing president, gets a little tedious in its one-thing-after-another action overload. Also, the author over-relies on the device of having many of her characters coincidentally know other characters who are important to the story. And, as much as I loved the voice actors, some of their accent were incomprehensible to me. The pidgin English dialect was like listening to an amped-up Jar Jar Binks.
Still, the overall theme of human worthiness of redemption, in the face of our many abuses of nature and one other, resonated for me. Okorafor is one to keep an eye on. The same (well, ear) goes for Andoh and Onwukwe.